Caught Offside: MLS Week 4: Crew escape RFK with a narrow victory

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FIFA World Cup Qualifiers came calling, robbing many MLS sides of their coveted Designated Players. Despite international duty’s scheduling conflicts with the American calender, Week 4 of the 2013 Major League Soccer season didn’t disappoint, as teams battled for early season points by posting 16 goals across 8 matches. Eastern conference rivals DC United and Columbus Crew’s nail biting clash at RFK Stadium earned them “best match” status, while Western conference behemoths Seattle Sounders failed to convert chances to goals for the fourth straight week, putting an early hiccup into their title hopes as they dropped a 1 – 0 result against the San Jose Earthquakes. Houston Dynamo were able to extend their home dominance  with a comeback 2 – 1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, keeping their unbeaten run at BBVA Compass Stadium alive for another week. Below are the highlights for Week 4:

Best Match : DC United 1 – 2 Columbus Crew

A hotly contested matchup since the league’s foundation in 1996, Columbus Crew paid a visit to historical yet dilapidated RFK Stadium, home to the black and red of DC United. Columbus took an early lead off of a Josh Williams goal, but DC’s newly signed  DP Rafael soon proved his value, as the 20 year old Brazilian slammed in a sensational half volley in the 22nd minute to tie the game. Bill Hamid, United’s Week 3 MVP, put together another stellar goalkeeping effort, posting 7 saves. However, his defensive savvy wasn’t enough to halt the pressing Columbus offense, as Ben Speas took advantage of a missed clearance as a result of a Federico Higuaín free kick and hammered home an open shot from the edge of the 18 yard box just 12 minutes into the second half. DC United cranked up their own offensive pressure, and nearly equalized in the 72nd minute if it wasn’t for the fantastic efforts of Crew keeper Andy Gruenebaum. After first saving a header from Linoard Pajoy, he quickly reacted to stop a long range Brandon McDonald strike. Finally the ball fell to the feet of Dwayne DeRosario, who attempted to rebound the block from close range into the near post. Gruenebaum flung himself in front of the effort, and in turn secured his team’s 3 well deserved points for the victory.

Biggest Disappointment: Chicago Fire 1 – 4 Chivas USA

A few weeks ago, this result might have gone down as the “Upset of the Week”. However, despite Chivas USA’s late game dominance, this game was largely a statistically uneven mess. Chicago’s Patrick Nyarko equalized in the 64th minute, slotting home a pass from Sherjill MacDonald that cancelled out .Edgar Mejía’s goal only 7 minutes earlier. Chicago held the lion’s share of possession, posting 19 shots while handling the ball for  56.9% of the game. Chivas were whistled for 16 fouls, but their bend not break defense held the brunt of the Fire’s attack thanks to goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. However, the final twenty minutes of the game saw Fire’s defense utterly collapse, as the Goats mounted a commanding comeback with efforts from Joaquin Velázquez, Juan Agudelo, and an 89th minute Fire own goal. Chicago scored their first goal in four matches in front of a woefully low crowd of 9723, showing how far the playoff team has slid since last season. While credit goes to Chivas and the coming of age boot of Agudelo as they collected their 7th point of a possible 12, the Fire’s collapse simply shouldn’t have happened.

Upset of the Week: New England Revolution 0 – 0 Sporting Kansas City

New England Revolution, who have been living at the bottom of the Eastern Conference for the past two years (despite being in the MLS Cup Finals 3 consecutive years  between 2005-2007), were able to gain a valuable draw against last year’s Supporter’s Shield winners at Gillete Stadium. Even though the Revs boasted better possession for much of the match, Sporting Kansas City had 13 efforts on goal, the most promising of which was a CJ Sapong shot that Rev’s midfielder Clyde Simms cleared off the line in the 19th minute. Neither side were able to establish a clear advantage on what amounted to being a blustery day in Foxborough, Massachusetts, but the Revs ultimately gained the upper hand in the midfield grind. The Revs don’t play an attractive game, but only giving up one goal in three games is a massive step in the right direction for a team that has struggled recently with notoriously leaky defense.

Most Valuable Player:  Andy Gruenebaum (CLB)

For the second week in a row, top goalkeeping ability was the ultimate deciding factor when choosing who to award the MVP accolade to. Andy Gruenebaum posted a heroic performance against DC United, quickly reacting to a flurry of increasingly difficult DC United attacking efforts in the 72nd minute. Most notable of his 4 saves was against DC Captain Dwayne De Rosario, blocking an effort just launched just a few feet away from the near post. Gruenebaum’s one goal allowed on the afternoon was an absolute golazzo from United DP Rafael, but his marshaling of the Crew back line more than made up for it.

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